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How Plateau governorship election was won, lost at tribunal

By Achor Abimaje on 07/10/2019

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•Victorious Governor Lalong
•Victorious Governor Lalong

It was jubilation galore in Jos/Bukuru metropolis of Plateau state following the declaration of Governor Simon Lalong of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as winner of the governorship election by the Plateau State governorship election petition tribunal which last week dismissed the petition of the People Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidate in the election, Senator Jeremiah Useni for lack of merit.

Recall that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had in March declared the gubernatorial election held in Plateau state inconclusive. The results from the 17 local government areas of Plateau State showed that Lalong’s APC was leading with 44,929 votes.

The official declaration of results was made by the State Collation Officer, Prof. Richard Anande at about 3:00am where he declared the APC winner of the poll.

Lalong had won in 11 of the 17 local government areas including Jos East, Kanke, Bokkos, Mikang, Pankshin, Kanam and Jos North local government areas. He also defeated the PDP in Wase, Mangu, Qua’an Pan and Shendam local government areas.

However, Lalong’s main challenger, Useni won in Langtang North, Langtang South, Barkin Ladi, Jos South, Bassa and Riyom local government areas. Prof. Anande who is also the vice chancellor of Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, put the total number of registered votes at 2,480,455 while accredited voters were 1,157,025.

He, however, said the total number of cancelled votes was put at 49,377 and therefore, exceeded the difference of 44,929. He declared the election as inconclusive and ordered for supplementary elections to be conducted in the affected local government areas within 21 days.

Lalong emerged winner of the supplementary poll which was also conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) within the stipulated 21 days in line with the electoral act.

The governor, who was declared winner of the polls by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said the support of Plateau people and political stakeholders would ensure the success of his mandate to develop the state.

“I am humbled, I was voted again to serve Plateau for another tenure to move it to greater heights. We need unity and peace to move this state to the next level.

“Core values of team spirit, mutual respect and tolerance are required for sustainable peace and a good working relationship in the state and I promise to discharge my duties diligently and selflessly,” he said.

Lalong commended INEC, security agencies, the media and voters for the peaceful and successful rerun elections in the state, saying it was one of the most peaceful nationwide

Lalong was declared winner with 595,582 votes after defeating his close rival, Gen. Jeremiah Useni of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who got 546,813 votes.

However, shortly after INEC declared him winner of the supplementary election, Useni vowed to challenge the re-election of Lalong.

Useni said that he and his team had gone through both the official results released by INEC and the documents submitted by the party’s field staff and had reservations.

“We have every reason to believe that justice has not been done to our people in this election because there was massive rigging and electoral shortcomings.

“After due consultation, I hereby state that the results announced by INEC is not acceptable to us.

“Consequently, we have requested our legal team to activate all the due processes to reclaim our cherished mandate.

I give you my word that we will pursue this matter diligently, and by the grace of God, we will overturn and recover the people’s mandate,” he said.

The PDP flag bearer expressed appreciation to the people of Plateau for their massive support to him and the party in their preference for good governance.

Useni said that they did this, in spite of all manner of challenges adding that their determination was a clear testimony of their desire to get rid of a non-performing administration that had long turned its back against their welfare and security.

“I assure you that such massive support will not go in vain,” he said.

“I appeal to all of us to unite all the more now and avoid any bickering and blame-giving.

“Let us remain focused on the struggle and avoid anything else that will distract and divide us.

I want you to know that it is not yet over. This is only a temporary setback. We have entered another critical stage,” he said.

At the Plateau State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Jos the Plateau State capital, the tribunal also dismissed the petition brought before it by Useni challenging the election of Lalong.

The tribunal, having reviewed the arguments and final written addresses of all the parties alongside those of the witnesses called, held that the petitioners failed to proof their case beyond reasonable doubt which led to the dismissal of the petition.

About 71 witnesses called by the petitioners to prove over-the-counter voting, non-substantial compliance with the Electoral Act, corrupt practices among others, failed to prove their assertions, saying that the allegation of over-voting is like a pack of cards which has no basis in law.

The three-man tribunal chaired by Justice Halimat Saleeman added that the evidence of the witnesses called by the petitioners from the outset had collapsed ab initio which must be discountenanced.

The tribunal in its four-hour unanimous judgement, averred that the tribunal was only an umpire but not an investigator of cases, adding that it was therefore very difficult to remedy unsubstantiated evidence.

Saying that although the issue was a pre-election matter, the consequential order would have been to disqualify the second respondent (Lalong) before the election took place as the tribunal did not have power to nullify the election at this stage.

It said the election can be nullified in parts but not in whole except when the election is affected substantially.

On the issue of Lalong providing various names like Simon Sule, Simon Sule Lalong, Sule Simon L, Simon Bako Lalong during registration at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the 2019 election, the tribunal held that he had attained the qualifications before the change of name which he swore to in an affidavit while the facts therein remained valid and truthful, adding that the alleged false information did not affect the truth as all the alleged different names point to the same Simon Bako Lalong.

The tribunal held that the name “Sule Simon” had remained constant from his primary school to university degrees. The same thing happened to over-voting as the allegation could not be proved as the petitioners could not prove it and provide the ballot papers of the polling units at the tribunal.

Meanwhile, reacting to the judgement of the tribunal, Lalong described his victory as victory for the entire people of the state and an affirmation of the mandate freely given to him in the last general elections where his party the APC won resoundingly.

Lalong in a statement by his Director of  Press and Public Affairs, Dr. Makut Simon Macham, said, the verdict of the Tribunal clearly speaks of the unshaken confidence the electorate demonstrated when they massively voted for him and the All Progressives Congress (APC) during the last general elections.

The governor said: “The verdict of the election petition tribunal not only affirms our mandate, but also shows that we are all winners as the people of the state will now have seamless governance since the distractions of litigations are now settled”.

He again extended a hand of fellowship to the opposition PDP to join hands with him to rescue Plateau state from underdevelopment, insecurity and poverty and consolidate on the achievements of the last four years, saying “there is no winner or loser in this verdict, Plateau State is the winner”.

The governor assured the electorate that their votes will not be in vain as he had prepared a 5- year Development Plan for the state which will drive the 3- pillar policy thrust of his final term anchored on Peace; Security and good governance; physical infrastructural development; and sustainable economic rebirth.

Lalong commended the Tribunal for dispensing justice without fear or favour and says the decision is founded on sound legal grounds that cannot fail any test.

Also reacting to the judgement, APC counsel, Mr. Pius Akubo (SAN), said the verdict of the tribunal was the mother of all petitions in Plateau state by the judgement rendered which took them almost four hours to listen to it from start to finish.

Akubo stressed that “the tribunal commendably dealt with all issues raised and canvassed by the parties from all angles, including the qualification of Lalong to contest the election vis a-viz Form CF 001, allegation of over-voting, corrupt practices and non-compliance to the electoral law.

“In the same vein, the tribunal painstakingly considered all interlocutory matters raised by the respective counsel to the parties. On our part, we are satisfied, but the judgement is in our favour, specifically with respect to the qualification of the governor.

“The tribunal unequivocally found as a fact that the governor did not give false information of fundamental nature in aid of his qualifications. The tribunal equally found as a fact that the WASC certificate along with Form CF 001 is that of the governor and indeed all other qualifications that he submitted along. And to that extent, the tribunal validated the fact that he is qualified to contest the election.”

Akubo said that with allegations bordering on criminality, the tribunal found that those allegations were not proved or substantiated, adding that with respect to over-voting, only isolated instances were said to have been proved by the petitioners.

He said that even at that, the final conclusion was very clear that the governor still led by 46,143 votes which he said was a clear marginal lead.

Similarly, in his reaction, counsel to the petitioner (Useni), Mr. Edward Pwajok (SAN), said that it was a long journey, adding that the tribunal judgement yesterday was the first bus stop.

According to Pwajok, last week’s judgement by the Supreme Court which the tribunal did not address. “We are not blaming them for not addressing it because due to logistics reasons, the judgement of the Supreme Court was not made available to them. We are sure if the judgment is made available to them, it would have affected the way that they decided the matter would have affected the irregularity of the election.

“But let us say this, that we appreciate the people of Plateau State. You also heard how the tribunal commended the first petitioner, that is General J.T. Useni himself, for his calmness, for his maturity and that he epitomises peace. I want to say that General Useni remained confident in the judiciary. I think that there are other higher levels.

“With the judgment itself, you can see that it has already formulated many grounds of appeal because in some cases, we found out that some of the findings by the tribunal were not in tandem with the conclusion that they reached.”

For APC stalwart, Alhaji Nagelu Garba and a youth activist Pius Hoomen while reacting on governor Lalong’s victory at the tribunal both said the judiciary has again proved itself strong in the protection of democracy and the rule of law in Nigeria,

The duo call on the people of the state to support Governor Simon Lalong so that he would continue to provide the dividends of democracy to the people of the state.”

They also urged the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to accept the verdict in good faith and join hands with Lalong to move the state forward.”

In the same vein, the publicity secretary of the Plateau state chapter of the People Democratic Party, PDP, Mr. John Akans, in his reaction said there are not satisfied with the judgement of the tribunal, adding that they are going to appeal at the appellate court.

He called on the party supporters to remain calm and be law abiding citizens as they proceed to the appeal court for redress. (LEADERSHIP)

 

Source News Express

Posted 07/10/2019 11:43:40 AM

 

 

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